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Snoring: Genes or Lifestyle? We’ve Got the Answer — and the Solutions
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2002 poll, 37% of people — both male and female — snore at least a few nights per week.
And that percentage increases with age: the age group most affected by snoring is 55-64 year olds.
With such a large percentage of people breathing noisily at night, it’s easy to wonder… is snoring mostly caused by genetics or lifestyle choices? And what can be done, if anything, to reduce it?
Like most things, snoring has both genetic and non-genetic causes. Let’s take a look at the role genetics play in snoring, as well as some other factors that affect it. Finally, we’ll discuss some action steps you can take to avoid or minimize snoring.
How Much of Snoring Is Genetic?
A 2001 twin study looked at the link between snoring, sleep apnea and obesity in order to understand which symptoms are caused by genetics and which are caused by environmental factors.
The results were clear: there’s a definite genetic component for snoring and sleep apnea, though genes aren’t the sole contributing factor and there isn’t a single gene responsible for these traits. Hereditary traits like throat structure can impact the likelihood of snoring too.
Interestingly, this study also found that the genetic traits that impact obesity often correlate with snoring, so it may be fair to say that snoring is influenced more by obesity than by genetics in general.
What Else Causes Snoring?
Some other causes of snoring besides genetics and obesity include:
The older you get, the more likely you are to experience obstructive sleep apnea (resulting in snoring). This may be due to the fact that as you age, the muscles in your throat begin to weaken, restricting airflow in ways you may not have previously experienced.
Did you know that males are 7-10 times more likely to snore than females? There are still a significant number of women who struggle with snoring, but the likelihood of snoring is much greater for men.
3. Nasal Congestion
Nasal congestion due to allergies or the common cold can restrict air passages — especially at night, as excess mucus drains into the throat. This can cause snoring for the duration of the cold. So people who don’t usually snore may find that they snore occasionally when under the weather.
Anything that irritates or constricts the air passageways in the throat could result in snoring, so smoking can greatly affect the frequency and severity of snoring.
How to Snore Less (Regardless of the Cause)
Snoring can range in severity from super mild and barely noticeable to extremely disruptive.
If you’re on the mild side of the snoring spectrum, the good news is you don’t necessarily need to take drastic measures to combat your snoring, because it’s probably not doing you any harm. Try a few of the tips in this article to optimize your sleep for silence.
But if you fall on the more extreme side of the continuum, it’s likely that your snoring is affecting your sleep quality (and the sleep quality of anyone who shares your bedroom).
If your snoring is causing you or your partner to lose sleep, or you suspect that your snoring is related to sleep apnea (irregular breathing during sleep), you may want to seek medical help.
A doctor will do a thorough physical exam to assess all possible causes of your sleeplessness. They’ll check to see if you have sleep apnea and advise you accordingly. If you do have sleep apnea, they might recommend relatively simple changes, like shifting your sleep position or losing some weight, to ease your air passageways.
More drastic recommendations might include sleeping with a special apparatus or even having surgery to help open up restricted passageways. If snoring is linked to swollen throat muscles, your doctor may even prescribe inhaled steroids.
So, Should You Be Worried About Your Snoring?
If you have a family history of snoring and it isn’t affecting your sleep (or the sleep of those around you), then most likely you have nothing to worry about.
But if your snoring begins to be disruptive, or is linked to more serious concerns like obesity or sleep apnea, then you should have a conversation with your doctor. They will help you understand how your snoring can be managed, so that you (and those around you) are getting the best sleep possible.
(1) Carmelli, Dorit et al. “Genetic Factors in Self-reported Snoring and Excessive Daytime Sleepiness." American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, www.atsjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1164/ajrccm.164.6.2012001. Accessed 25 Oct. 2019.
(2) “Snoring and Sleep." National Sleep Foundation, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/snoring-and-sleep. Accessed 25 Oct. 2019.
Should you blame your snoring problems on your genes?
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